DON'T LOOK NOW, but the lawmakers in Annapolis are addressing questions of ethics - their own and those of other public officils in Maryland, of all places. Indeed, according to the latest finger-to-the-wind poll taken by anyone, a little over 100 percent of the General Assembly members support clean government at all levels. It's when you get down to specifics - such as how strong an ethics bill should enacted in this session, or whether a public campaign-financing bill should pass - that the rhetoric turns into heated debate. At that point, various lawmakers can suddenly find any number of reasons for advocating a weakening of measures aimed at monitoring the role of money in government.
Last week, before the State Senate finally did approve a bill to tighten ethical standards of public officials, there was quite a division between those who thought such legislation could be constructive and those who characterized the measure either as a public relations gimmick or some sort of invasion of their privacy. To hear them tell it, there's no reason to really do something about this matter; after all, it was only a few bad apples who gave Maryland such a foul nationwide reputation.
But of course, it only takes a few. And fortunately, that has been recognized by Acting Gov. Blair Lee III and and Senate President Steny H. Hoyer, who have been elbowing each other for the "reform" spotlight. Well they might.We are pretty sure the subject is keen interest to voters worried about the political reputation and quality of their state government, who may take a closer look this year at how their elected officials in Annapolis stood on various attempts to weaken ethics legislation.
Opponents of stronger laws on this front - dealing with conflicts of interest, financial disclosure, moonlighting activities, gift-taking by public officials (and campaign financing, which is addressed in a separate bill that also deserves enactment) - are quick to note that such measures don't stop corrupt politicians. True, and neither do criminal laws. But they are intended as restraints, as ways of reducing the amount of secrecy surrounding the relationship of money to politicians. That is why legislators with nothing to hide should be eager to enact the most effective proposals possible.